April 19, 2010 | Author: Greg Phillips
He may be known to most as the bass player Sid Vicious replaced, but importantly Glen Matlock could actually play his instrument and also pen a tune. He is credited with co-writing ten of the twelve tracks off the infamous ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’ album, including the iconic single ‘Pretty Vacant’. Even more significant, he’s alive, well, and enjoying playing rockabilly tunes in Robert Gordon’s Men They Couldn’t Hang alongside Chris Spedding (Bryan Ferry) and Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats). Matlock took a break from dining in a London restaurant to have a chat with Greg Phillips about the band’s ensuing Australian tour.
How did you first connect with Robert Gordon?
A bit by default really. Danny (Gatton-one time guitarist with Robert Gordon) asked Slim Jim, the Stray Cats drummer to play with them and I think they also wanted their bass player Lee Rocker to play too, but he was unavailable. Slim Jim being one of my best mates, who knows I’m not a bad bass player, suggested me. The other guy in the band is Chris Spedding and I have known Chris for thirty odd years. He produced the first Sex Pistols demos, but I’ve never actually played with him. I’ve always thought of him as a great guitarist, and it’s just come full circle. About ten years ago or more, I went to see one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen and it was Chris Spedding playing with Robert Gordon. They had this fantastic rhythm section, a couple of American guys. I can’t remember their names but they were great. So to be asked to do this after they have been playing with guys like that, I’m quite chuffed really.
What is it about the chemistry of you four guys that make this band work?
I don’t know really. It just works. When you play with people and it works, it’s a good thing. It kind of had to work because we had two afternoon rehearsals in New York at the tail end of last summer and just a couple of gigs. So it had to work. I dunno, we just get on with it.
What are the qualities that make Robert Gordon such a great frontman?
I don’t know how he comes across as a frontman because I’m always behind him (laughs). No, look, Robert Gordon has a fantastic voice and he’s quite a character. He sounds bloody good and he sings as good as Elvis.
Bass players generally have a great musical relationship with the drummer. What’s it like having Slim Jim to motor along with?
It’s great. I’ve done a couple of other projects with him. I’ve known Slim Jim since he came over to England and had nowhere to live when he was getting the Stray Cats thing together. I lost touch with him for a while and then he got involved with this Dead Men Walking thing with the guy from The Alarm (Mike Peters), that I was involved with and we just become really good friends. He’s a great showman on stage. He’s a good drummer, and he’s a laugh. Just don’t call
him The Fonz!
Have you tried?
Yeah, I did once a while ago but I’m not doin’ it again! It was funny though, it sort of came up again. We were in Milwaulkee around 3 weeks ago. It was freezing cold, like minus fifteen degrees. It was snowing and we were walking along and there were a couple of bridges criss-crossing the river. We were havin’ a look around. There’s this bloke standing out in the cold. I said to Jim, did you see that bloke he’s crazy standing out there in the cold. He says no that’s The Fonz, it’s a statue! I didn’t realise that Milwaulkee was where Happy Days was set, and they erected this statue there.
Are there any particular bass players that you look up to or were influenced by?
Yeah, I was born in the fifties and we had this fantastic thing called Pirate Radio. It was when bands like The Kinks, and Stones and Yardbirds came through. So I’d catch up with bands like that. I always liked Ronnie Lane. I like McCartney. These days it’s so different. Young people make records and everything is so perfect. Anyone can play an A chord or D chord. It’s when someone plays it not quite right somehow that it gives it character. You know you learn all the bass lines, then you end up in a band like the Pistols and you never get to use them. So with this band I’m going back to square one with my bass playing, but it is good. But the rockabilly thing is so big all around the world. And Chris Spedding has played with everyone. He played with Roxy Music and even played with The Wombles! He can play anything, but he’s such a great rockabilly player. It’s just great to be able to play with him. I’m not sure he’s saying the same thing about me.
The Sex Pistols was a no frills rock band, Robert Gordon is a back to basics type band and from what I have seen on the internet, when you play guitar it’s generally on acoustic. Is there something about being raw and true that appeals to you?
Music is about communication. I can drive a computer with a program on it but there’s so much fiddling around to get to the stage of having something to play to somebody. Whereas if you just pick up a guitar and strum it and sing a few words, and people dig what you’re doin’, then you’re relating to each other. It’s just more honest somehow.
What’s your bass rig consist of these days?
I’ve got a trusty old Precision bass and normally I use whatever amp is there. Normally its an Ampeg SVT or something decent like that. You can get a good sound out of most good amps. I don’t see playing bass as a big technical exercise. Just get on with it really.
How much pride was there in being musicians and trying to play a good show back then with The Pistols?
I think there was a lot. I think the problem we had was that we came out when there were bands like Yes and Genesis playin’ twenty minute magnum opuses, with all the time changes and dressed up as little goblins on stage and all that. It was supposed to be all clever, clever and we were just doing our version of Eddie Cochrane. It was with the comparison that people made the assumption we couldn’t play. People used to come up to us … we always used to throw a few covers in. We used to play ‘Substitute’ by The Who. This is before we had written any of our own songs. A couple of people have said they didn’t get it until we played covers. When they heard us play covers that were recognisable, they thought more of what we were doin’ because they had something to compare it to. You know, simple things done well. Mean what you say and put a lot of heart into it and it goes a long way. It’s the same with Robert Gordon, Slim Jim and myself, we mean it man!
You’re coming over to play the East Coast Blues Festival, do you enjoy playing festivals?
I do, but I much more enjoy playing them and than going to them because you get a backstage pass and it’s quicker to get to the loo, or dunny as you guys call it, and you don’t have to queue up. I’m really looking forward to coming to Australia. Last time I was there was in ‘96′, with The Pistols and I’ve got lots of friends there and my cousin lives there n’all.
What’s the best thing about playing in Robert’s band?
Hmm the best thing … I dunno… we just have a laugh. It’s a really good vibe with everybody. It’s fun.